This is my version of a "way too early" division standing for the SEC West in 2012. Last season, the West was top heavy, and heavy on a national level, while the bottom three teams fought for scraps. This season the West will have a new member in Texas A&M, along with two new head coaches and a ton of new coordinators. Looks like 2012 will be a case of "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Let's take a look.
Hugh Freeze is a good coach, nobody is debating that. He did more at Arkansas State, and for less money, than anyone could have imagined. This, however, is the SEC and the West for that matter. A new coach from the Sun Belt trying to rebuild a program that has become an absolute dumpster fire, and doing it in the toughest division in college football, is no small task. I hope I am wrong because I like Coach Freeze a lot and it's good for college football when Ole Miss is in the mix, but it's going to be very, very difficult.
I hate underestimating new head coaches because many times they will prove you wrong quickly. I like Kevin Sumlin, in fact I like him a lot. I believe he is a really good hire and a perfect fit for Texas A&M, but like Hugh Freeze, he's a new coach in a new conference. The SEC West is coming off an unprecedented season of national dominance, and if you're already behind the curve, it's not a great time to try and play catch up. This is another case of "I hope I'm wrong."
This is a team that I wish was better. The Bulldogs have been on the verge, but can't quite seem to get to the other side. There is no question that Dan Mullen knows what he's trying to do; the trouble of being able to do it in Starkville is up for debate. If State can move further into the middle of the SEC West pack, they will be doing a lot, but I'm sure the fans want more. Don't hold your breath folks, the West is too tough for the time being.
An impressive win over Virginia in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl impressed many Auburn fans, but left them wondering "where has this team been all year?" Tigers' fans don't want any more chicken sandwich trophies in their case. Auburn has a simple wish list that has existed for 100 years—beat Bama, win the SEC, and win a national title. They did all three of these things in 2010, but sometimes it's tough to settle for mediocre when you just had a taste of the sweet stuff. I'll have to see how this team looks before I give them any better than fourth in this division.
In 2011, Les Miles had a lot to clap about, in his own special way. He clapped his way to the title game, where he gave up the ghost to Nick Saban's hungry Alabama squad. LSU is good, really good, and they'll be good again this season, but they won't be as good as Alabama or Arkansas. I see the Tigers settling for third, and finding themselves in sunny Florida come year's end.
There is a simple plan for Arkansas to win the SEC West and possibly a national title—beat Bama and beat LSU. Talk about a mountain to climb, two mountains in fact. I don't think this is out of reach for the Razorbacks, but it won't be easy. The 2011 team was a BCS level team, but they found themselves right in the middle of the best division in the game. I think Arkansas will be better than LSU this season, but whether or not they can finally take down the Tide is still in question.
Nick Saban alone holds close to 20 percent of all BCS titles ever. He single-handedly destroyed a perfectly good undefeated season for Les Miles, and why would we wonder if he can do it again this year? Until someone consistently dominates Alabama under Nick Saban, they will be the king of the hill. Auburn has shown it's possible, but tough to do all the time. The Tide will remain on top until someone gets better than them, and we know they certainly won't be any worse. Besides, a man can never have too many trophies.